Chinese Herbal Medicine for the Immune System

How can Chinese Herbal Medicine help your immune system? In Western medicine, having a strong immune system is the key to resisting illness and maintaining overall health and well-being. There is lots of advice on ways to boost the immune system, from foods to supplements to lifestyle recommendations. Where to start? How to choose? Chinese Herbal Medicine can guide your way.

Introducing Chinese herbal medicine for the immune system

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes an approach that has important differences from Western medicine’s. And the practice of herbal medicine within TCM likewise differs significantly from how medications and supplements are used in Western medicine. For starters, what Western medicine refers to as “the immune system” is not a system in TCM.

TCM perspective on what we call the immune system

The immune system of Western medicine loosely corresponds to TCM’s “wei qi” (pronounced way chee), or “surface energy.”  Surface refers to any part of the body that comes into contact with the outside world, such as the skin, nose, mouth, lungs, ears, and digestive tract.

In the TCM view, when your body comes into contact with an external pathogen, it sends its resources to the surface to prevent the pathogen from penetrating more deeply into the body.  This reaction produces the signs and symptoms that, to a TCM practitioner, signal which body functions require assistance. 

Your licensed acupuncturist relies on a holistic picture of your state of health, known as your TCM Diagnostic Pattern, to guide the recommendations she or he makes. The meridians related to those body functions requiring assistance will then be treated with some combination of acupuncture, herbal medicines, moxibustion, qi gong, nutritional advice, and lifestyle changes. 

How is Chinese herbal medicine different from the use of medications and supplements in Western medicine?

Rather than only focusing on a pathogen or individual symptoms by themselves, Chinese medicine diagnosis is based on determining which meridian/organ systems are imbalanced.  Treatment focuses on balancing the systems and allowing the body itself to resolve the symptoms.  

In the case of herbal treatment, an herbalist begins with a base formula which is used to treat the imbalanced meridian or organ system, and then modifies it to take into account the individual patient’s original constitution and any additional symptoms. Modifications may involve adding and/or subtracting elements in the base formula.

Chinese herbal medicine compared to Western herbal traditions

Many herbs that we consider Western herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Over this long span of time, Chinese herbal medicine has developed into a complex and sophisticated system. The properties of each herb have been studied closely and characterized using categories such as temperature, flavor, and which meridians the herb affects. 

Familiar Western herbal remedies are understood quite differently within the TCM Herbal Medicine context. These differences have to do with the holistic TCM approach as distinct from Western medicine’s “one pill for one diagnosis” framework – take this for headache, that for upset stomach, and so on. 

Examples of herbs used in TCM that are also familiar in Western medicine:

  • Ginseng (Ren Shen) 
  • Astragalus (Huang Qi) 
  • Reishi (Ling Zhi) 
  • Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

See the Gaia Website for details  

How can I know which herbs are right for me?

Work with a TCM-trained herbalist

An herbalist trained in TCM can ascertain which of your body’s functions require assistance and choose the right formula for you. This is accomplished by inspection of your tongue and pulse, which, together with your body’s other signs and symptoms, constitutes your TCM Diagnostic Pattern. The herbal formulas used in TCM are often modified to fit each individual’s specific needs.  An herbal program typically includes formulas that clear toxins, move stuck energy, and nourish and strengthen the body – but not necessarily in that order!

Learn to recognize what your body’s signs and symptoms are saying

Once your TCM practitioner assists you in learning to recognize what your body’s signs and symptoms are saying, you can work together to support your body’s natural healing abilities with customized diet along with suggestions, tips and tricks for using supplements, and other lifestyle modifications for long-term healthy living.  We specialize in finding innovative ways for patients to take control of their health! 


Gaia Herbs Website – Herbs for Immune Support

In the next article, we’ll explain more about common immune-boosting herbs, why “one medicine to fix one ailment” doesn’t always work, and how and why traditional Chinese herbal medicine customizes formulas for each individual.

Ja’Nelle Jefferson, L.Ac., is a practitioner at Calandra Center for Health & Wellness. She specializes in using Chinese Medicine assessment techniques to design customized herbal formulas for patients. Her love of herbal medicine germinated during the years she spent working as a nutritional sales consultant, immersing herself in the study of natural supplements and personal care items. She is licensed by the State of Illinois in acupuncture (L.Ac.), and board certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).